From Iceland — A Space For Everyone: Andrými & Reykjavík's Grassroots Activism

A Space For Everyone: Andrými & Reykjavík’s Grassroots Activism

A Space For Everyone: Andrými & Reykjavík’s Grassroots Activism

Published December 9, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Andrými is a volunteer-run public space that formed during the wave of protests that followed the Panama Papers scandal. It is probably best known for hosting a Wednesday evening free dinner for asylum seekers and the people who want to know them first-hand, but there’s much more to the space than that. It has also become a meeting place for organizers and activists, houses the Anarchist Library, and has aspirations of greater work. While it has no leaders, one of the people responsible for putting the place together is Jamie McQuilkin. We caught up with him to talk about Andrými’s present mission and future goals.

What was the impetus behind forming Andrými?
For a grassroots political movement to operate, it does need physical spaces. Especially places that are not commodified; where you don’t need to buy a cup of coffee just to be there. So that was part of the impetus. Another part was to supply a space in Reykjavík for refugees that was not run by the state or a charity as such, and that they could take part in organising. A space where they could meet Icelanders and other immigrants, tell their stories, and get support.

As the situation is now, if you seek asylum in Iceland, you’ll be spending most of your time sitting in your room, or maybe going out for a walk during the day, because you’re not allowed to work. You can’t have any guests to your room, and in some places, you can’t have any guests at all. We’d like to have a space where we could be open all the day, every day, so this could become sort of the default option for asylum seekers who are looking for something to do in Reykjavík.

Since forming about seven months ago, how have you seen the number of visitors grow?
Originally, we had to advertise the weekly dinner. We sent text messages every week and really pulled everything out to try and get people to come. Now, we’re so full that it became important to stop telling people about it. [laughs] There’s huge demand for it, obviously. It basically runs itself now. At first it was important to organize it and delegate things like who’s taking the garbage out, but now the people who come here to eat self-organise. That’s what we want to encourage; it’s not a consumer space, it’s a social space.

Have you gotten any static from the authorities over this space?
They haven’t shown any interest in it. We’re not selling anything, we don’t do anything here that you can’t do in a house. So it’s basically like we’re inviting over a large group of friends to our house every week.

Apart from the weekly dinners, what else goes on here?
We have various activist groups who like to meet here, who have hard time finding a private space elsewhere where they don’t have to pay for it. That covers all flavours of activism. We’ve also had discussion groups, self-education groups, and participatory music and dance. It’s become kind of the default space for activists who want to organise something. It’s a great space for anyone who’s concerned about liberation and self-organising.

How have you felt seeing the public response to the space?
It’s really heartwarming when you see refugees coming every week, especially without any encouragement. They’ve come to see this place as a space where they can feel welcome.

Andrými, at Klapparstígur 19, is open every Wednesday at 20:00 for asylum seekers, new immigrants, and the locals who want to get to know them. If you want to book a time at Andrými, you can send them a message on Facebook or send them an email at Andrými is also looking for a new space, as their current location is set to be demolished to make room for houses. They will be launching a fundraising drive to that end in the coming year.

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